This beautiful image is part of a series of knotted tapestries – “The Witchcraft Series” – by the hugely talented textile artist Anne Jackson, which use language and image to explore the history and symbolism of witchcraft. I saw these works at an exhibition at the Museum in the Park in Stroud last year, and this piece in particular sparked the germ of an idea that became a story – Witches Sail in Eggshells – that went on to win the Local Prize in the 2018 Bath Short Story Prize.
When I mentioned on Twitter the source of my initial inspiration, Anne very generously offered to send me a copy of the book which accompanies her exhibition: Witch Hexe Sorciere – Works from the Witchcraft Series. It’s a fascinating volume – the images are so visually arresting, even where the subject matter is dark, and I loved reading more about the inspiration and methods in Anne’s work. I feel sure that it’ll be source of more stories. Rereading it now, I’m struck by the way Anne summarises the act of making her tapestries, and how it could equally apply, with only the smallest tweak, to the alchemic process of writing. I hope she won’t mind me quoting her here: “…It’s about grasping at strands, of belief, feeling, memory, twisting them into skeins, and knotting them into something solid and material, which I can send travelling out into the world, to represent me…”
What inspired me most at Anne’s exhibition was not just the strange phrase in the tapestry shown above (and another which touched on the same theme) – this idea that eggshells should be crushed to prevent witches roaming wildly – but also the concept of witch as disrupter. That knotted in my mind with the idea of a woman with such allure, she all but blotted out everything around her, so that you might be bewitched by her and fail to notice the person beside you, caring for you, all along. So the eggshells travelled to Dublin, to a group of hard-drinking bar girls there, and a story was born.
The book’s images are stunning but they don’t do full justice to the size and power of Anne’s pieces and the intricacy of the work involved. If you’d like to take a look at The Witchcraft Series for yourself, have a look at www.annejackson.co.uk for upcoming shows. I believe Anne has one booked at the Devon Guild in Bovey Tracey in the spring, in case you’re down that way.
If you’d like to read my story and all the other shortlisted and prizewinning stories from this year’s Bath Short Story Award, visit Ad Hoc fiction for a copy of the anthology (£9.99) or buy in person from the very lovely Mr B’s Emporium in Bath.
And if you’ve got a thing for witches, you’re probably already aware of the amazing-looking Spellbound exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (until 6 Jan 2019) – I’m heading there next month for more witchy inspiration.
Thanks for reading,